Itâ€™s that time again…..
As any seasoned angler will tell you, the mayfly hatch is one of the most welcomed events of the year. For many, it spells the start of the trout season and the end of a cold long winter, any chance of other sport having been halted by the close of the pheasant season, guns cleaned and tucked away until September. It also tends to mark the time when dry flies become more reliable on the rivers than the nymphs, and glorious long, sunny evening by the water.
Having spent months under stones as nymphs, the mayflies come out to play during the days of May and June, their main objective to mate and lay eggs. Synonymous with lowland chalk streams, they are found in the most unlikely of situations. I have even seen them 600m up on Scottish hill lochs in late June. The hatch will usually last a couple of weeks on each body of water, and whilst one yearâ€™s hatch is not normally an indication of the time of next yearâ€™s, it is fair to say that â€˜earlyâ€™ waters are usually â€˜earlyâ€™ every year in comparative terms, and so on.
For those who have not seen a mayfly hatch, one or two can be seen emerging from the water early on, and the day builds to a crescendo of flying protein snacks for the trout. The river becomes alive with fish boiling at the insects as they land drowning and struggling at the end of their one and only day as a flying creature out of the water. It is often said that a stocked brown trout could add 50% to its bodyweight during the mayfly hatch such is the quantity of insects that emanate from under stones, hatching and lands back on the water.
If you watch the trout carefully during the hatch, you will see that they seldom move from their station in the river, allowing flies to drift up to their hunting zone before (usually) slurping them lazily off the surface, and sometimes crashing down on them. When fishing for them, it is essential to bear this in mind. There is a channel of water about 6 inches wide that the fly must drift along, completely dead drifted with no drag from the line, and it should land a couple of feet upstream of the fishâ€™s lie. Because of the design of a mayfly imitation, it is relatively easy to get the fly to â€˜parachuteâ€™ down into position, landing in a most tempting manner. Some of the most exciting takes come when this happens right in the fishâ€™s kill zone.
Mayfly time is often called Dufferâ€™s Fortnight, and it is true that at certain times if the rules above are followed carefully then some quite large catches can be had. I would be disappointed if I could not catch and return 20 chalk stream trout in an eveningâ€™s fishing when it is â€˜onâ€™. Later in the day, in the last few days of the hatch, the fishing becomes more difficult. The fish are to all intents and purposes sated, and tempting them becomes a more difficult prospect. I have experienced evenings where almost nothing can persuade the fish to take properly, with trout crashing down on flies with their flank, drowning them with their tails, or smashing them out of the surface film with their noses. It is really frustrating fishing, but a great test of skill and lateral thinking and usually a fish or two can still be had by the end of the day through careful matching of fly patterns (or sometimes doing something completely different) and delicate casting.
You will need a lot of flies. For each fish you catch, you may well miss a couple, and by the time a fly has been drowned and had a fish caught even the very best will be ragged and the wings wonâ€™t allow it to present properly on top of the water. I tend to make sure I have at least 2 dozen mayflies in different sizes and colours. Make sure you load up with plenty of fly floatant to keep the imitations riding high on the water.
A curse of dry fly fishing on rivers is the fly leader floating on top of the water and causing shadows or unnatural patterns in the surface film. I take the first six inches of leader near the fly, and drag it between my thumbnail and forefinger. The heat causes the line to wrinkle a little, and it tends to stay out of the water, held out by the eye of the fly pattern and the bottom of the biggest curl. I also tend to use a sinking fluorocarbon for visibility reasons. If the fishing is difficult, and the fish wonâ€™t look at your pattern, ring the changes and try changing either down or up a size significantly. Quite often a largish grey wulff (which will be small compared to a mayfly), or a daddy long legs fished exactly as a mayfly will get results.
The best advice is donâ€™t spend too long on each fish. Keep moving up the river if you can. If you havenâ€™t had a take in three good casts, it is likely that you have spooked it or it wonâ€™t feed. Find another to cast at, always approaching from downstream, casting short rather than long if you have to test your casting range. Keep checking your leader as well, and by this I mean not only for knots but also by stretching it to test the strength. The shape of the flies means that they donâ€™t always fly straight when you are shooting line or striking. This can cause small wind knots, or worse deterioration in leader strength in pressure points that you simply cannot see. I tend to replace my leader every half an hour or 3 or 4 fish just in case.
So get to the river in the next week or two and see for yourself, and donâ€™t forget your polarised glasses to make sure you can see everything that is going on.